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How the U.S. Army Works

Army Life

A soldier's training is never completely finished. In the modern Army, mundane tasks formerly used as punishment or busy work for soldiers, such as preparing food for mess service or basic cleaning, are often performed by civilians under contract with the Army. This frees up soldiers' time, allowing them to take ongoing training courses. They may go through additional AIT schools to diversify their training or take leadership courses. Entire units can take special training courses together. The Army's goal is to keep soldiers focused on improving their skills and abilities so they can perform their jobs perfectly when peoples' lives are on the line.

The barracks at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Photo by Jason Kaye/courtesyU.S. Army
The U.S. Army barracks at Fort Lewis, Washington.

While a soldier's assignment ultimately depends on the needs of the Army, his area of expertise and his training, his family situation and specific requests may be taken into account. The Army has special programs for married couples who are both in the military and for other special situations, such as family hardships, that may require specific assignments. Other than these special cases, a soldier goes where the Army tells him to go.

The Army recently announced plans to replace its green, white and blue service uniforms with one blue service uniform, likely similar to the Army Blue uniform pictured here.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army
The Army recently announced plans to replace its green, white and blue service uniforms with one blue service uniform, likely similar to the Army Blue uniform pictured here. Other uniforms include the ACU (Army Combat Uniform) and the IPFU (Improved Physical Fitness Uniform).

All single enlisted soldiers live in barracks on an Army base when they first complete their training. Life in a barracks is similar to living in a college dorm: each soldier has at least one roommate and uses a communal bathroom and shower. Higher-ranked soldiers have the option of living off-base, using a military housing allowance. Married soldiers also have this option, although 24 percent of all military families live on base in Army-provided housing. The base itself includes enough provisions for daily life that soldiers and their families need never leave the base if they don't want to. Amenities include:

  • Post Exchange (PX) - The base store, where many consumer goods can be purchased
  • Gyms, pools and other exercise facilities
  • Movie theater
  • Restaurants, bars and clubs
  • Libraries
  • Golf courses, tennis courts and other recreational facilities

Army bases are scattered throughout the United States, and there are bases in South Korea, Japan, Belgium, Germany and Italy. Soldiers typically receive a new assignment every two or three years, so chances are they will eventually get to experience life outside the United States if they stay in the Army long enough.

As of 2006, the U.S. military is involved in a long-term war in Iraq. Although many soldiers train in non-combat specialties or request assignments to places other than Iraq or Afghanistan, there are never enough combat troops available. Therefore, every enlisted soldier has a chance of being sent to a combat zone. Once there, soldiers may be sent on combat missions as the need arises, regardless of their specialty. Make no mistake -- when you join the Army, there is a very real chance that you will see combat and the possibility of injury or death.

We'll look at life after a soldier leaves the Army in the next section.